For all of the designer’s enigmatic influence over fashion, one person was by his side the entire time. This is Jenny Meirens’s story.
IF EVER THE NOTION of a status symbol was subverted, it was with the birth of the blank white Maison Martin Margiela label. Conceived one evening in 1988 at a little bar in Mantova, Italy, when power dressing was at its height, the idea was that only those in the know would be able to determine its significance, or even be able to tell if a garment was “designer” in the first place. And what — cue the tap of a polished red fingernail — was the point of that? For Margiela and Jenny Meirens, his creative and business partner, making a nameless calling card represented a belief in the inherent quality of design, not to mention satisfied their mischievous streak. “I was certain we shouldn’t — we couldn’t — just come out with something that read Martin Margiela,” says Meirens, who came up with the idea. “When people come into a shop and see strong clothes with no name on them they are going to be more curious.”
Margiela was reticent, but ultimately agreed, on one condition: Four white stitches, visible only on the outside of unlined garments, would be added. “Our lawyer couldn’t believe it because, of course, you cannot protect a blank space,” Meirens says. “We lied to him and said we were going to print it with Martin Margiela on the reverse side. But we never did.” In that small gesture, one of the most influential partnerships in fashion history was forged.
Margiela’s take on glamour was maverick to the point of fashion anarchy: Imagine a floor-length T-shirt printed with trompe l’oeil sequins, a woman’s jacket scaled up to an Italian men’s size 60 or another based on a Stockman dressmaker dummy, in lettered and numbered linen, all worn with a split-toe tabi boot. His skilled tailoring was the envy of his contemporaries and a beacon for generations to come.
Like that label, and despite critical acclaim, both Meirens and Margiela remained almost entirely anonymous throughout their 16-year partnership, refusing to be photographed or to speak to the press. In 2008, a feature in this magazine stated, “Even after 20 years in business, Martin Margiela is still the most elusive figure in fashion — which might explain why designers feel so free to thumb through his archives for inspiration.” The story was illustrated with five catwalk looks by Marc Jacobs, A.F. Vandevorst, Junya Watanabe, Hermès and Prada, above which were printed the original Margiela references.
Fashion has always borrowed heavily from Margiela. However, seven years after his retirement from fashion and well over a decade since Meirens moved on, having sold a majority stake in the company to Only the Brave founder Renzo Rosso in 2002, their impact on the industry has never seemed so potent. That applies not only to clothing design, but to marketing, fashion photography and styling. Raf Simons has openly paid homage to Martin Margiela. Vetements and Balenciaga are indebted to his aesthetic. Emerging designers including Vejas, Marques Almeida and Jacquemus all nod to his archive. So does Kanye West. The luxury goods market is oversaturated, and because of that, fashion is moving toward a more low profile, lo-fi authenticity that is deeply rooted in the purposefully anti-establishment mind-set that Margiela and Meirens pioneered.
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Tomorrow you have a change to see the documentairy We Margiela ,the first future length documentairy about Maison Margiela.